King County Executive Dow Constantine announced Tuesday afternoon he plans to convert the remaining detention units at the county’s juvenile jail to “other uses” no later than 2025, citing a desire to move public funding away from “systems that are rooted in oppression.”
“Phasing out centralized youth detention is no longer a goal in the far distance,” Constantine wrote in a lengthy Twitter thread Tuesday. “We have made extraordinary progress and we have evolved to believe that even more can be done.”
He added that his announcement comes after “the vicious, state-sponsored murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.”
“America is now reconciling the genuine aspirations born of the enlightenment – liberty & equality – with a history steeped in oppression and violence,” Constantine wrote. “Redemption begins by shifting public dollars away from systems that are rooted in oppression and into those that maintain public health and safety, and help people on a path to success.”
King County has proclaimed a goal of “Zero Youth Detention” for years, even as a new jail facility was constructed.
“Today’s announcement on the CFJC is significant because it would essentially be the fulfillment of the Zero Youth Detention goal,” a spokesperson for Constantine’s office wrote in an email to The Seattle Times. “This proposal would convert the remaining detention capacity at the CFJC … to be used for therapeutic and community use.”
The recently-opened, 112-bed Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center (CFJC) replaced an older Youth Services Center (YSC) that had 100 more beds than the new facility — “almost twice the number of detention beds needed today,” according to the county’s CFJC website.
The CFJC, which includes courtrooms and other facilities in addition to jail beds, was initially built as a “part of our larger aspirational goal of a safer, more restorative alternative for every youth,” Constantine tweeted Tuesday.
The CFJC currently houses 21 people, reflecting a significant decrease from its March 13 population of 43 residents, as officials have worked to reduce jail populations during the coronavirus, according to a county correctional facility dashboard.
On Tuesday, the county executive added that he’ll also propose additional investments to create “community-based solutions” for youth and families in King County.
According to a statement from Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County (BLMSKC), the organization met with Constantine’s office and public health officials earlier Tuesday to “(outline) a path forward.”
“We want a system that supports youth and helps them lead healthy, productive, and fulfilling lives,” BLMSKC board member Livio De La Cruz said in the statement. “Their lives matter. Ending youth incarceration is the right thing to do for our children, their families, and all of us.”
Community members have been pushing back against the new youth jail facility since it was first announced, according to the statement. Last month, the organization said it also issued a written set of demands which included ending youth incarceration in King County by the end of 2025.
“The path to Zero Youth Detention gets steeper and steeper from here, and only an all-out, concerted effort from government and community partners will get us to that summit,” Constantine wrote. “Community has continuously called on us to do more and to go further, and with their help, we will answer that call.”
Correction: This story has been updated to correct that Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County issued its written demands in June, not July. The organization’s statement also said the community, rather than the organization specifically, had been pushing back against the new youth jail.